Green Swamp Encroachment Proposal Resurfaces, The Latest Threat Of Many

A proposal to stretch the line between intense development and environmental protection in one of Florida’s most important environmental areas has reemerged along Deen Still Road.

It involves a possible change in the line agreed upon in 1996 between Polk County and a now-weakened state agency over where intense development can and cannot occur at the edge of the Green Swamp Area of Critical State Concern.

This idea was broached in early 2023, but never went beyond the conceptual stage. Now it’s back.

For those of you new to Polk County in particular and Florida in general, the designation involves 295,000 acres in Pok and Lake counties that was approved by the Florida Legislature in 1974 to protect key portions of the Floridan aquifer and the headwaters of four Florida rivers from overdevelopment. It is also a hub for a network of state wildlife corridors.

The Green Swamp in general is a plateau covering about half a million acres between the Lake Wales Ridge and the Brooksville Ridge.

The settlement allowed development adjacent to the U.S. 27 corridor, but not much farther west.

Or, as Mr. Mason said to Mr. Dixon, we’ve got to draw the line somewhere.

Now there is a proposal to redraw the line to allow industrial development to encroach slightly deeper into the Green Swamp.

The discussion is in the preliminary stages and anything that occurs will require a public hearing before the Polk County Planning Commission and the County Commission and review by the Florida Department of Commerce’s community planning staff.

Once upon a time there was a separate state agency called the Florida Department of Community Affairs that was charged with oversight—and the power to sue to stop—unwise development plan changes in the Green Swamp and everywhere else in the state. The agency was abolished at the request of Gov. Rick Scott and under the Scott and DeSantis administrations in Tallahassee growth management oversight in Florida has become almost non-existent.

That is, the staff can object, but no longer has the power to take action if local officials ignore them.

It is impossible to say where the latest proposal will go, but Sierra is watching it and will provide updates if someone tries to slide down this slippery slope.

The problem is that this is not an isolated assault.

County planners recently hatched a plan to allow more residential development on substandard lots in the Green Swamp. Lake Alfred officials have approved questionable annexations that would introduce industrial development into another section of the Green Swamp near Hilochee Wildlife Management Area.

There is also a planned but thankfully unfunded plan on the county’s priority project list to realign Deen Still Road into a major trucking route that would likely increase wildlife roadkill at a time when other agencies are developing wildlife crossings over Interstate 4 to make it easier for wildlife to disperse regionally .That proposed road would bisect a section of the Southwest Florida Water Management District’s Hampton Tract and Colt Creek State Park to complete a quicker link to a widened U.S. 98 north of Lakeland on the other side of the Green Swamp.

Who knows what will happen next.

Stay tuned.




Posted in Group Conservation Issues.